Argentina beefs up internal security, names new ministry

Dec. 15, 2010 at 6:25 PM
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BUENOS AIRES, Dec. 15 (UPI) -- Argentina toughened its stance on rioting slum dwellers by appointing a minister to the newly formed ministry for internal security but postponed further action on promised poverty reduction programs.

President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner reshuffled her Cabinet to move controversial Defense Minister Nilda Garre to the internal security portfolio and brought in former provincial Gov. Arturo Antonio Puricelli as the new minister in charge of the Defense Ministry.

The presidential appointments were a response to recent riots in which, critics alleged, troops and police used brutal means to crush unrest by non-European immigrant communities disparagingly known as "cabecitas negras" or black heads.

The migrants, mostly from Bolivia and Paraguay, were driven out of one shanty town to end up in another where they were challenged by local residents.

At least three people died in the riots and human rights activists said several dozen shanty dwellers were wounded.

Campaigners say the government's response, while timely, fails to address the real issue of chronic poverty that doesn't get reflected in official statistics.

The capital's shanty town population has swelled to more than 200,000 -- about 7 percent of the population -- and clusters of slums have mushroomed in and around Buenos Aires.

Large areas of the slums are without basic amenities and go unpoliced, giving rise to crime and drug gangs, corruption and extortionist cartels.

Puricelli, was governor of Santa Cruz, home province of Fernandez, from 1983 to 1987. More recently he was in charge of Fabricaciones Militares, the munitions and explosives manufacturing complex managed by the Planning Ministry.

He is taking over as the government responds to recent upsurge in regional defense spending. Cash-strapped Argentina plans to spend about $4 billion on defense next year, more than 4 percent of the nation's overall budget but minuscule when compared with the military spending outlays by Brazil. The rise in defense spending coincided with Argentina's tense standoff with British-ruled Falklands Islands, which Argentina claims as its own territory.

More recent Argentine spending also includes internal security procurement, which will now move under the new ministry to be headed by Garre.

Garre, a former guerrilla activist and human rights lawyer, provoked controversy when she faced charges of unfairly holding back on promotion of armed forces officers belonging to families of military personnel during Argentina's military dictatorship from 1976 to 1983. Many of those personnel were accused of human rights violations.

The Security Ministry will oversee the federal police and gendarmerie, coast guard and

airport security services. Many of the security duties currently are performed by the Ministry of Justice.

In shanty town riots last week, slum dwellers overran a central Buenos Aires park and took control of other open areas. The total number of arrests in the riots hasn't been confirmed.

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